A Closer Look at Birmingham High School Coach James Medeiros; Taking the Los Angeles City Section to Another Level by Al Fontes

Al Fontes – TCW Editor
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The road map to achieving goals in life is through hard work, sacrifice, and being totally dedicated to the process of achieving them. It also requires having a vision and possessing the discipline to move forward, even in the midst of failure. It has been said that “discipline is doing what you don’t want to do when you don’t want to do it.” For example, it is waking up in the pre-dawn hours of the day and drilling for two hours before attending your first class in the morning, or running an extra five miles in the late evening after a long day at school, regular practice, and two hours of demanding homework. One particular California wrestler that fits this description very well is Head Coach James Medeiros of Birmingham Community Charter High School in the Los Angeles City Section.

James Medeiros

Medeiros’ wrestling journey began at the early age of 8 years old when his father, Jim, got him involved with the local Delta Wrestling Club in Brentwood, California. Having been a very good wrestler himself, Medeiros’ father understood that exposure and repetition were very important and key elements to achieving success. As many successful people have learned in life, there will be many bumps on the road to achieving one’s goal, thus perseverance is paramount. Medeiros learned this first-hand as his introduction to wrestling was not pleasant. He truly took his lumps in the beginning, but understood that repetition is the mother of skill…Never give up! It was around the sixth grade at Edna Hill Middle School in Brentwood when he started to embrace the mental and physical challenges of the sport and reinforce them with hard work and sacrifice.

            “When I was in eighth grade, I moved to Fremont to live with my dad and things changed for me. His passion and drive for the sport rubbed off on me. He had me drilling moves in the garage every morning. That’s when I went from part time wrestler to serious competitor.” James Medeiros.

As I had stated prior, repetition is the mother of skill.  Medeiros’ dedication and commitment to wrestling truly paid off. While attending American High School in Fremont, Medeiros accumulated an impressive number of accolades. In four years, he earned multiple league and section titles, two trips to the state finals, winning the prestigious CIF State Championships his senior year in 1999. In addition, Medeiros won several Cadet & Junior state titles, earned All-American honors at the NHSCA Senior Nationals, four All-American honors at the Cadet & Junior Nationals in Fargo, and received All-American honors from several of the promotional outlets, such as Wrestling USA Magazine, Amateur wrestling New, and ASICS.

Medeiros continued his mat career at Fresno State and during his tenure as a Bulldog, he earned two trips to the NCAA Division I Nationals and placed four times at the Western Regional Conference. For the past several years, Medeiros has had great success competing in the Veteran’s division, thus winning several national level titles and earning a Bronze medal at the Veteran’s World Championships in Bulgaria.

I have always said that the Los Angeles City Section is a gem and has the great potential to be among the top areas of wrestling in California, especially when the current population is nearing 19 million. All it needs is a dedicated coach(es) to bring in a system of wrestling that will attract many and capitalize on its great potential. Much like the quote from the movie Field of Dreams, “If you build it, he will come” is taking place in the city of Van Nuys. Entering his ninth season as Head Coach at Birmingham High School, Medeiros has truly done an outstanding job thus far and has brought in a system that has produced many section, state, and national level wrestlers. For instance, this season he had Jonovan Smith reach the CIF State finals, as well as win a Junior National title in freestyle (Double All-American), Katie Gomez (Double AA), Jerzie Estrada and Gregor Cholakyan earn All-American status in Fargo. In essence, Medeiros has proven that his system of wrestling is a formula for success and as a result is taking Birmingham High School and the Los Angeles City Section to another level. You could say, he has built the wrestling mat and many have come.

I have known James Medeiros for many years and have been witness to his wrestling journey thus far. I recall back when I was coaching in the late 1990s, watching him battle match after match at Cadet Greco State in a weight group that had close to 130 entrants. I believe he had approximately 9 or 10 matches that day. His competitive spirt is evidence to his great success, both as a competitor and now as a coach. More recently, I had the opportunity to talk to James about his wrestling career, coaching, and life. Below is my Q&A. Enjoy!

ACADEMIC ACCOMPLISHMENTS – FRESNO STATE

Bachelors of Arts Degree – English

Bachelors of Arts Degree – Theater

ACCOMPLISHMENTS – FRESNO STATE

2x NCAA Division I Qualifier

4x Western Regional Conference Medalist

4th on Fresno State Bulldog All-Time Win List (114 Wins)

Never missed a single match in four years – Only wrestler to achieve this feat

Most matches in Bulldog History – Over 160 matches

ACCOMPLISHMENTS – American High School (NCS)

CIF State Champion ‘99

2nd CIF State ‘98

NHSCA Senior All-American (3rd Place)

3x CIF North Coast Section Champion

2x Mission Valley Athletic League Champion/4x Finalist

CADET & JUNIOR ALL-AMERICAN HONORS – FARGO

Junior All-American – GR ’99 (3rd)

Junior All-American – GR ’98 (6th)

Cadet All-American – GR ’97 (7th)

Cadet All-American – FS ’97 (5th)

HIGH SCHOOL ALL-AMERICAN HONORS

AWN High School All-American ‘99

ASICS High School All-American ‘99

Wrestling USA All-American ‘99

CALIFORNIA STATE CHAMPIONSHIPS – FS/GR

Cadet Freestyle State Champion

2x Cadet Greco-Roman State Champion

2x Junior Greco-Roman State Champion

Junior Freestyle State Champion

Cadet Freestyle State Runner-up

Junior Freestyle State Runner-up

OPEN LEVEL – SUNKIST KIDS WC

2x U23 All-American

World Team Trials U23 finalist

Western Regional Champion – Olympic trials

2x Sunkist Open Medalist

New York AC Open Medalist

SENIOR LEVEL – VETERAN’S DIVISION

Bronze – Veteran World Championships – GR (Plodov, Bulgaria) 2017

5th Veteran World Championships – GR (Perm, Russia) 2018

7th Veteran World Championships – FS (Skope, Macedonia) 2018

6x US Open Champion

2x Folkstyle National Champion

US Beach National Champion

ACCOMPLISHMENTS – COACH

Birmingham Charter High School (Los Angeles City Section)

Head Coach since 2011-’12 season

Boys (132-22 Dual meet record)

3x Los Angeles City Section Tournament Champions

3x Los Angeles City Dual Meet Champions

1 CIF State Finalist

7 All-Americans – Cadet/Junior Divisions

1 Fargo National Freestyle Champion

3 Folkstyle National All-Americans

Girls (77-12 dual meet record)

Los Angeles City Section Champion

4x LA City Section Runner-ups

7x West Valley League Champions

14 CIF State Medalists

4 CIF State Champions

6 CIF State Finalist

4 Top 10 Team Finishes – CIF State Championships

3rd Place Team – CIF State Championships

10 Folkstyle All-Americans

10 Fargo All-Americans

2 National Champions (Fargo)

6 National Finalist (Fargo)

Club Coach

6x National Team Coach – California

AWARDS

Girl’s Coach of the Year – California Coaches Association ‘16

Q&A INTERVIEW WITH JAMES MEDEIROS

How did you first get involved in the sport of wrestling?

My dad got me started at 8 years old. He was a very good wrestler, so I was always going to wrestle. It was a slow process of getting beat up for years. Around sixth grade when I started middle school at Edna Hill in Brentwood, I really started to get a grasp on my balance and body strength.

Who was your biggest influence in the sport?

My dad was by far my biggest influence in wrestling. When I was in eighth grade, I moved to Fremont to live with my dad and things changed for me. His passion and drive for the sport rubbed off on me. He had me drilling moves in the garage every morning. That’s when I went from part time wrestler to serious competitor.

What life lessons have you learned in the sport of wrestling that applies in your day-to-day life?

I use just about all the things I got from wrestling every day. Goal setting, determination, relentless work ethic, and the drive to be the best in everything I do. In theater of film, I look at auditioning like a tournament. Mental preparation, focus, physical and spiritual awareness all come into play. When I’m writing I use the same kinds of preparation and consistency that I do when I’m drilling my moves

When did you begin your Coaching tenure at Birmingham Charter High School in the Los Angeles City Section?

For the 2010/2011 season, I started at Birmingham as an assistant coach and then was made the head coach the following season.

What was attractive about the opportunity to take on the Head Coaching position at Birmingham Charter?

I was in Los Angeles to work on my film career as an actor/director. It had been over three years since I stepped on the mat. One of my Fresno state teammates, Sam Fragoza, moved in with me so he could work on music. We got to talking about wrestling and we both wanted a place to roll around and help some high school kids. We were in North Hollywood at the time. Sam called a handful of nearby schools, and none of them had a team. Birmingham was the first school we reached out to that had a team. We talked to the head coach, Tony Born. He told us we could coach the team and it sounded like fun. The both of us alternated the days we went. It was so much harder than we ever thought it would be.  Even though we were both very experienced wrestlers, it was hard to teach kids from scratch how to wrestle. The next year, Sam left LA to go back home, and I became the head coach.

I always wanted to build a team that was a real team. I wanted one that won duals and where the team was more important than one kid. At American High School, we had five great wrestlers at most, and were always individuals. I’ve taken bits from all the coaches I’ve had, and ideals from programs that I’ve been a part of to use in my coaching. I have created my own system that has been working really well, but I am always trying to evolve as the sport evolves.

What do you enjoy most about coaching?

I enjoy the relationships that we build for life. I enjoy watching these kids go off to college and turn into adults. I enjoy changing lives for the better. When I see kids turn around their academics and go wrestle in college, it makes me feel that all the time and effort I put in is well worth it. We are just starting to have the first few kids that I coached graduate from college. The bonds we make and the time we shared last forever. My favorite thing on the mat is when a kid finally decides to trust me on the mat and have faith. When they succeed and reach their goals it is sublime. 

What are your long-term goals for the Birmingham Charter program?

One of my major goals for our school is to build a program that is not only one of the best in the state but one that is constantly sending kids to college. For our school to be an opportunity for them to wrestle and continue their educations at the next level.

It’s my understanding that you run a freestyle/Greco-Roman wrestling club at Birmingham. Please provide some insight to the program, its history, and the impact it has had on wrestling at Birmingham and in the Los Angeles City Section.

I have been running a club that focuses on freestyle and Greco two nights a week almost year-round since 2010. I knew right away that the only way I can get these kids to catch up in four years is to put in double time in the off season. We go everywhere: all the state meets, the US Open, UWW tournaments, Fargo. I think the city has stepped up tremendously since I have gotten here. I’d like to think I have something to do with it, but there are a lot of people putting in the time to get better and that’s what it takes.

It’s my humble opinion that the Los Angeles City area is a goldmine for talent and has the potential to be among the top areas in the state of California. The recent Junior National title earned by Birmingham Senior Jonovan Smith is just an example. What’s your thoughts?

I agree whole heartedly. This is one of the few places where you can take a kid like Jonovan and get him to a place where he is one of the best kids in the country. I think there will many more to follow his path. 

What advice would you give a young wrestler wanting to be successful in the sport?

Don’t let anyone or anything stop you from reaching your goals in this life. If there is a will, there is a way. Go to the toughest tournaments, train with different people. When things get tough, hard work will always win. If money is an issue, then get out there and raise some. You have to do what it takes and you have to give it your all when no one is watching. One of the biggest things I do for my kids is give them all the opportunity to be good. They have to decide to take the opportunity and seize the day.

Outside the sport of wrestling, what other goals do you have in life?

My number one goal is to live my best life. I made a choice a while ago: quality of life over anything else. I do things that I love and enjoy. If I don’t have passion for it, I won’t do it. I want to continue to produce theater and film. I’d like to create my own studio for film making. I want to continue wrestling myself until my last day because I love doing it so much. I don’t know why I thought I had to stop, but we don’t. 

It’s my understanding that you are active in theater? Please explain.

It’s my understanding that you are active in theater? Please explain.I have produced a bunch of full length plays that I have written. Some short films/ web series, and films. I created a funny web series called “Roommates: A Bro-mance”, and recently a series of short films about puppet racism, called “A Puppet Life” and “A Puppet Life 2: Human Dating”, which are now streaming on Amazon. I was in a feature called “Hollywood Road Trip” a while ago. I enjoy the creative side of myself and I am constantly trying to push myself in that realm.

Jonovan Smith is the first Birmingham wrestler to reach the CIF State finals
Coach Medeiros and his Dad with Birmingham wrestlers
James Medeiros among his fellow CIF State Champions – 1999
The result of many long hours of hard work and sacrife